Children and adolescents in East Asia and the Pacific are generally optimistic about the future, but many appear woefully unprepared to deal with the rapidly growing threat of HIV/AIDS in the region, according to the results of a United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) survey released today in New York.
The survey, "Speaking Out! Voices of Children and Adolescents in East Asia and the Pacific," asked questions of approximately 10,000 children and adolescents 9 to 17 years of age in 17 countries and territories, representing some 300 million young people in that age group. According to UNICEF, the survey is believed to be the largest and most comprehensive hearing of the views of young people ever carried out in the region.
The findings revealed that about 80 per cent of respondents believed their lives would be better than those of their parents, while some 74 per cent thought life in their communities would be better in the future than it is now. Asked about their level of knowledge on HIV/AIDS, 60 per cent of 9 to 13 year-olds and 25 per cent in the 14-17 age group said they knew "absolutely nothing" or "only the name." In addition, 70 per cent of children in the younger group said they were ignorant about sexual relations; for the older group that figure was 35 per cent. The number of 14 to 17-year-olds who said they lacked even basic knowledge about HIV/AIDS translates into 33 million across the region, according to UNICEF.
Other questions related to HIV/AIDS were asked only of the older age group. Sixty-eight per cent of the respondents correctly identify unprotected sexual intercourse as a major route of HIV/AIDS transmission, but only 41 percent say they knew what a condom was.
"The results of this survey should serve as a wake up call to the governments and societies in this region on how much more needs to be done to educate young people, especially about HIV and AIDS," said Mehr Khan, Regional Director of UNICEF's East Asia and Pacific Regional Office. "AIDS knows no borders and no country can consider itself immune. If this region is to avoid the fate of sub-Saharan Africa, where the spread of the epidemic has been truly catastrophic, we need decisive and urgent action."
The survey was carried out in Australia, Cambodia, China, East Timor, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Lao People's Democratic Republic, Macao, Malaysia, Mongolia, Myanmar, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, the Republic of Korea, Singapore, Thailand and Viet Nam.